Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Industry-University Innovation Benchmarking: US vs. UK

For those interested in enhancing university-industry relationships (a topic of importance in our forthcoming book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar), it's helpful to know that the Cambridge-MIT Institute has been exploring learning from the UK and the US in this area. They have conducted some valuable benchmarking to understand the differences and draw meaningful conclusions. Here is an excerpt for their website:
Benchmarking Success

The Cambridge-MIT Institute funds research that sheds light on key issues in UK innovation. Our International Innovation Benchmarking Study, conducted by leading researchers at Cambridge and MIT, quizzed 3,600 British and American firms for insights into their business practices, in order better to understand the role of universities in the innovation process. The report provided for the first time a like-for-like comparison of the innovative behaviour of UK and US firms - giving valuable insights to industry bodies and policy-makers. The report yielded a number of important findings, including the discovery that while more UK than US businesses (two-thirds UK compared to one-third US) use universities as a source of knowledge for innovation, US businesses tend to value their interactions with universities more highly.

The report also found that companies in the United States are more concerned about taxation, legislation and regulation than their British counterparts, and that they are more worried about a lack of skilled labour and getting access to finance. "I was surprised by the data from this survey on 'innovation inputs' that suggested that firms in the US find life just as challenging, and in many cases, harder than those in the UK,” said Ian McCafferty, Chief Economist at the CBI. “Clearly the popular impression of the US - that it offers a much better climate for innovation than the UK - does not fully stack up."

I also understand that a related study from this group points to the importance of a professor's network in determining whether the work is commercialized. Broad contacts across the company a professor interacts with helps determine the success of the project. (I'm looking for that reference. Do you have it?)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Horn of Innovation™: Turning the Invention Funnel Upside Down

In my past life in corporate America, I was often discouraged by the widespread use of the "funnel model" of innovation. The funnel describes how many initial ideas enter the idea processing engines of a company, which winnows the ideas and projects down to a small stream in a narrow pipeline that releases a few of the rare, lucky winners as new products or services into the market. This model means that most innovation work is misguided effort that results in nothing.

It soon became clear that traditional approaches to innovation are inherently inefficient, especially in consumer products and non-pharmaceutical innovations where there is some degree of predictability of technical success (not necessarily market success). Part of that inefficiency is because inventors in corporations aren't inventing what the market really wants or needs, and aren't part of the feedback loop involving the market. Much of the effect of traditional R&D teams truly is wasted breath, doomed to be winnowed out in the funnel of innovation - but it doesn't have to be that way.

I'd like to share a model of innovation that builds on my experiences in the past, including my years of exposure to the French horn from a talented horn player in our family, my son, Daniel. One of the surprising things I learned early on about the French horn is that the hornist typically places a hand in the bell of the horn - the large open funnel at the end - to shape the final sound that emerges, making sure it is in tune with the environment and fits the rest of the music being played by others. The placement of the hand in the bell - a technique called "handstopping" - can change the pitch as well as the timbre of the music. Handstopping was a key innovation in the development of the horn from the 1700s that allowed the horn to be more than just a special effect, but a true orchestral instrument.

By turning the innovation funnel on its end, we have a "horn of innovation™," not a funnel. The efforts of the innovator, the energy delivered by buzzing lips - the "buzz" of the innovator - is not wasted breath, but directly contributes to the output from the horn. The buzz is transformed by the internal processes and variable paths inside the horn, going from a crude buzz to a melodious tune, but in this process, the hornist - symbolizing the innovator - is involved from beginning to end. The hornist is part of a feedback loop, hearing the notes that are released into the environment, getting immediate feedback and making adjustments with hand and lips to keep things in tune. The hornist has a score, sees the feedback from the director, hears the output into the environment, and has a hands-on approach right to the end. In many industries, it should be this way with innovation as well. Rather than having inventors isolated and cut off from the market and from the downstream development process, inventors should have a hand in the process to the end, receiving rapid feedback in an iterative loop as early market information suggests the need to alter the innovative input to deliver what the market demands.

Keeping inventors in the loop, allowing them to be part of the process of learning from the market, and providing systems that effectively transform their crude input into crafted finished products and services, can make the most of inventor efforts and result in targeted, directed innovation to meet the needs of the market, with every breath contributing to the final output rather than have 95% of the efforts be wasted.

The Horn of Innovation™ is a model of directed innovation with integrated inventor involvement in an iterative feedback loop aimed at rapidly learning from the market and making constant hands-on adjustments to deliver successful, pleasing results.

I will be describing this approach more fully in a book that is coming out next year: Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar, to be published 2009.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reaping the Riches of Innovation in India

I'm am delighted at the progress India is making in encouraging innovation and harvesting the innovative potential of its people. The rest of the world would do well to keep their eyes on India and consider the technologies being developed there. Some examples of technologies being harvested are given in the Time Is for Technopreneurship site. One of the truly amazing stories from India comes from the work of Anil K. Gupta, the "Gandhi of Innovation," who leads week-long journeys (the "Shodhyatra") into the villages of India to identify innovations from farmers, craftsmen, cooks, and others. You can read more about this at Sristi.org, such as their recent report from the 20th Shodhyatra in western Bengal. I am truly inspired by this work!

While grassroots innovations are being harvested, India is also taking a leadership role in promoting innovation from its universities and professionals. I recently spoke with Dr. A.S. Rao of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and was highly impressed with what he and his peers are achieving. There are numerous centers working to advance innovation. There are efforts to assist innovators with intellectual property and other needs to help them on their way. IT-related innovation is strong and healthy, but the government is now aggressively working to advance many other areas such as medical devices, agriculture, materials, energy, etc. tePP - the Technopreneur Promotion Programme, is a key network supporting independent innovators (see the TePP Blog). The network has many outreach centers and provides grants, technical guidance and mentoring support to independent innovators. They are making a lot of progress. Keep your eyes in India!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Patenting Software and Business Methods in India: Probably Not Possible

Software and business method patents are problematic in many nations outside the U.S. For example India, the source of much of the world's software, is unlikely to permit such patents. A good article on the situation there comes from the Indian IP blog, Spicy IP.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In re Bilski: The End of Business Method Patents? No

he U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit just handed-down the long-awaited In re Bilski decision dealing with patentable subject matter and so-called business method patents. The decision reverses part of the famous State Street decision that sparked so much business method patent activity in the past decade. It imposes a new test requiring that the method being claimed must either (1) be tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) transform a particular article into a different state or thing. This will stop some business method and software patents, at least as currently drafted, but since most involve hardware and other tangible aspects of technology, making the claims involve tangible elements may not be an onerous burden. In fact, it's pretty much what the PTO has been requiring and what drafters have been doing for some time. But some areas may become more challenging for patent seekers.

In fact, the decision affirms the possibility of business method patents while it clarifies the standard for patentability.

I've got some pending patents in this category and am curious to see how they will be affected, if at all. Fingers crossed!